Most CPAs would agree that attending continuing professional education (CPE) courses in person is a great way to increase their learning, maintain their license and network with other professionals.  However COVID-19 has made it impossible for professionals to attend CPE courses in person.  Attending online live courses presents a number of challenges for both instructors and attendees.  In this post we will look at three ways that instructors can make their online CPE courses more engaging for the attendees. 

Remember Who Your Audience Is

One of the biggest challenges for online instructors is being able to read the body language of their audiences.  When teaching in person an instructor can gauge the reactions and responses of their students, compared to online teaching which restricts or eliminates seeing attendees.  In-person teaching allows the instructors to see if there is too much or too little information being offered.  Offering information in small time segments, with breaks for questions and recaps, can be helpful in keeping the attention of the audience.

Learning who your audience is can make the course more enjoyable for both the attendees and the instructor.  One way to make the course more enjoyable is by tailoring it to the skill set of those attending.  A great way to gauge the skill set of the audience is to offer a couple of on-line survey questions prior to or at the beginning of the course.  Tailoring the course may require the instructor to teach more off-the-cuff if he or she determines that the prepared information is too basic or too advanced, but for attendees, the quick adjustment in information can make the learning a more valuable experience. 

Do More than Just Lecture

CPE course participants often ‘check out’ when listening to a continuous lecture for a couple of hours.  Another way to engage with the attendees is to pause lecturing to work application problems with the audience.  Challenge the listeners to pick up their pencils and work through a set of problems and examples while you work them.  Instructors can share their screens to work through the examples or use something as simple as a small white board to show the work they are doing.  This method of teaching will engage the attendee with a break from listening, as well as offer them the chance to test their skill mastery.  Real-time surveying makes it easy for instructors to ask the participants about their answers and if they need more practice.

Make the Course Feel Personalized

On-line meetings have become standard practice with COVID-19 and most professionals are not excited about this practice.  Attending a continuing professional education course online after attending numerous online meetings is unappealing to many.  It is important for the attendees to see that the instructor is an active participant in the course.  Setting up a fun background for the lecture can engage participants as well as alert them to the instructor’s interest in teaching the course.  It may be helpful for the instructor to set up a pretend audience (a use for all of those stuffed animals around the house?) to have someone to speak to when teaching the CPE course and as a reminder that there are real people on the other side of the screen.  Maximizing interaction with attendees by monitoring online questions and comments is key to make the course feel personalized.